If you ask me, when it comes to wine, it’s difficult to name any particular bottle “the best”. In other areas, one can much more easily make that determination: the 100-metre dash, a top-selling album, results in a political race, and so on. But anything of a subjective nature, particularly when there’s art involved, is tricky.
For example, at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991, Dances With Wolves won Best Picture, edging out popular films like Goodfellas, Ghost, and Awakenings. Many called the result blasphemy, and in hindsight—when you think of which films have resonated and permeated pop culture—the award does seem a little dubious. Of course, different films have a different appeal to different audiences; what one person considers the best, others might find downright off-putting. (How could I have forgotten Pulp Fiction’s “Bring out the gimp” scene when I recommended it to my parents?)
When we talk about best in the world of wine, it’s often as a best-in-category or best-in-show award as decided by a panel of judges, who often use numerical scoring formulas.
There’s also a saying that floats around the wine industry: “When asked which vintage was the best in a certain region, it’s always the one being sold.”
The best wines I’ve had in my life usually aren’t so much about the exact quality or stature of what I’m sipping, but where I’m enjoying them, alongside what dishes, and with whom. One of the best wines in recent memory was a simple (but deliciously stony and citrusy) bottle of J & H Selbach 2014 Riesling (Mosel, Germany; $15.79, B.C. Liquor Stores), because it was during a perfectly casual night at home with my wife, a couple of friends, and some kickass Thai takeout.
“Best” for me depends on many factors, and there’s definitely an ebb and flow, even if it’s just a mood that strikes. I have many “bests”, and they’re always changing.
In fact, every week I try to share what I think is the best in this column, whether it’s a bottle recently sampled, a wine enjoyed at a restaurant by the glass, or the best illustration of a particular theme, such as sharing bottles from Tantalus Vineyards, Synchromesh Wines, and the like when talking about top B.C. Rieslings.
But this is the Best of Vancouver issue, and I’ve been thinking about it for months, challenging myself to whittle hundreds and hundreds of wines tasted over the last few months down to a single wine that’s worthy of a sole spotlight.
I’m not going to say this is the best wine I’ve ever had—even this year—but I can certainly tell you it’s one of ’em. I tried to think of this week’s offering as something I’d recommend if money were no object. It had to be fairly rare, memorable, of fine quality, and worthy of a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. That’s best-ish, yeah?
I apologize in advance for being so clichéd, but this is indeed the wine I kept coming back to.
Yup, I went for Champagne.
More specifically, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005 Blanc de Blancs (Champagne, France; $199.99, B.C. Liquor Stores).
There are special-occasion wines, and there are Special Occasion Wines. This is the latter. Whether you have a worthy celebration soon or far off on the horizon, I recommend you nab one of these bottles now, as there are only about 100 of them floating around Vancouver B.C. LDB stores.
So what’s the big deal (and why the big price tag)? First off, this is the flagship, top-of-the-line wine from a world-renowned Champagne family known for consistency and quality for generations. Made from hand-selected, premium Côte des Blancs Chardonnay grapes since 1952, and only in excellent vintages, five percent of the initial wine pressing receives four months of aging in new French oak, which brings an extra layer of delicate, but mighty fine toastiness to the final product. Once it’s fully assembled in bottle, the wine ages almost 10 years in the 800-year-old cellars of the Saint-Nicaise Abbey in Reims.
Consequently, while 2005 is the new release, its soul certainly goes back further when one considers the history of both the label and the cellar.
I’m not gonna lie. One of the perks of this job is being able to taste wines like this and not have to fork over the dough to do so. At the same time, I have a rule that I’ll happily accept samples or attend tastings, but there’s never a guarantee I’ll write about them.
Over the last year I’ve had the opportunity to try a few dozen Champagnes, spread across various price categories, with a good handful of ’em above the $250 mark. Regular readers will note that it’s extremely rare for me to highlight wines over $50 or $60, let alone beyond $200. My feeling is, if I’m recommending you drop 200 bucks on something, it had better be worth it.
This wine is worth it. There’s value here, as I’ve certainly tried what I think to be lesser wines (still great, but not this great) at much higher prices. I like the lemon zest and marzipan notes wafting out of the glass, and the creamy texture on the palate. The bubbles are fine and elegant, and they carry a generous amount of fruit. Some sparkling wines and Champagnes can be a little too aggressive and, when combined with lively acidity, the fruit gets lost behind the form. That’s not the case here. Fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit, ripe with a kiss of sweetness, is the first thing that comes to mind. After that, the dominant flavours are akin to lemon curd slathered on lightly toasted rye bread. (There’s that small oak treatment, plus lengthy aging on the lees, coming through.) The finish leans towards quince and fresh-sliced Bartlett pear, and it goes on. And on. And on.
If you have the means, go for it. If not, next week I’m going to take things down a few notches with some personal bests between $50 and $100. And then we’ll return to our regular programming. Cheers!